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Officials with Madison County Schools are planning to release district policies July 23 outlining in-person and remote learning options.

MARSHALL – Madison County Schools and the Madison County Sheriff's Office made national headlines Aug. 5 after its decision to allow SROs access to AR-15 rifles in each of its six schools in the county.

There are six schools in the Madison County system: Brush Creek Elementary, Hot Springs Elementary, Mars Hill Elementary, Madison Middle, Madison High and Madison Early College High.

The guns are secured in safes, along with other items, including tools to help break through barricaded doors.

"The reason we put the breaching tools in the safes is that in the event we have someone barricaded in a door, we won't have to wait on the fire department to get there," Sheriff Buddy Harwood said. "We'll have those tools to be able to breach that door if needed. I do not want to have to run back out to the car to grab an AR, because that's time lost. Hopefully we'll never need it, but I want my guys to be as prepared as prepared can be."

Superintendent Will Hoffman said the decision and the funding for school resource officers in each school came together through a collaboration between the local school board, the county commission and the county Sheriff's Office.

"This has always been our highest safety priority. We have also worked to fund digital camera systems at each school, additional counseling, and social worker support at each school and site-based therapy through a partnership with MAHEC to create safe school environments at each of our schools," Hoffman said. "We have now seen senseless school shootings over and over again across our nation. As superintendent of schools, my highest priority is the safety and welfare of our students and staff. I believe in our school resource officers. They build strong relationships with students, and they are highly trained in the use of firearms and de-escalation strategies. They have my trust; the trust of our Board of Education and they have earned the public’s trust. They need to be able to take decisive action that includes all appropriate steps to neutralize an assailant, should a critical incident occur."

Madison County residents weighed in on the school system's decision Aug. 6.

Some residents, like Betsy Richards Smith, 68, of Mars Hill, said while she agreed with some components of the decision, she felt the use of AR-15s was unnecessary.

"If there are to be any official guns in a school, the SROs are the ones to have them - not the teachers, not the principal and not the aides," Richards Smith said. "The critical aspects are training and access. A gun is no good if you can’t get to it in time. That said, I don’t see the need for AR-15s. In these scenarios, you only have to take out one person: the shooter. Why risk accidentally killing more students with an AR-15 when a well-aimed service revolver will do the same job?"

Mars Hill resident Jacob Mercer, 29, said he supports the school system's decision. Mercer and his wife, Courtney, have a 5-month-old daughter in daycare in the county.

"I feel like this is a wonderful step into limiting school shootings," Mercer said. "I'm very happy with our school board and sheriff's decision. The children's safety is the number one thing that we should be concerned about. Having AR-15s in our schools definitely is a cost-efficient way of protecting our kids."

Harwood cited the continued occurrence of school shootings throughout the nation in his decision to stow the AR-15s in safes.

"I hate that we've come to a place in our nation where I've got to put a safe in our schools, and lock that safe up for my deputies to be able to acquire an AR-15," Harwood said. "But, we can shut it off and say it won't happen in Madison County, but we never know. I want the parents of Madison County to know we're going to take every measure necessary to ensure our kids are safe in this school system. If my parents, as a whole, want me to stand at that door with that AR strapped around that officer's neck, then I'm going to do whatever my parents want as a whole to keep our kids safe."

An AR-15 rifle. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Michael Bitzer is the department of politics chair at Catawba College, and the author of "Redistricting and Gerrymandering in North Carolina: Battlelines in the Tar Heel State."

"I think the aftermath of Uvalde has laid open some real divides that may transcend partisan dynamics: the overwhelming number of law enforcement officers at the school during the event, and yet the significant delays that law enforcement officers failed to act that could have resolved the issue has both sides bringing new policy initiatives regarding the worth of increasing security in public schools," Bitzer said. "In this environment of highly polarized partisanship, and with the growing policy divisions regarding the role of guns in our society, I suspect we will continue to hear new policy initiatives surrounding one of the most divisive public policy issues of our day."

Bitzer said the Democratic sheriff's decision could have political motivations.

"While Republicans won 55-60 percent of the top three elections (U.S. President, U.S. Senate, N.C. governor) in the 2016 and 2020 elections in Madison County, Harwood has run in midterm elections (and thus avoided the Republican ‘top of the ticket’ ballot influence in very partisan presidential election years) and been either unchallenged, as in 2018, or able to make it against a Republican challenger, as in 2014," Bitzer said. "This year, he does have a Republican challenger, along with confronting a Republican-advantage electoral dynamic with this midterm year.

"So the policy decision may be an honest look at this year’s election dynamics — a Republican challenger in a pro-Republican election year — and Harwood seeking to solidify his more ‘conservative’ credentials to blunt campaign attacks. Certainly, Harwood’s power of incumbency is a major advantage to any candidate (long name-recognition, able to withstand the growing Republican influence in the county), but this year may be a real test to see if a Democrat can continue to win a local office in a county that has shifted more and more Republican in voting dynamics."

Online security measures

Caroline Fletcher, 39, lives near the Petersburg neighborhood of Mars Hill.

Fletcher's 17-year-old son had previously attended Madison County Schools but moved out of state to be with his father in April 2021.

"We should be doing more to help these kids handle strong emotions and prevent them from feeling the need to commit these acts," Fletcher said. "We should be training them on what it looks like to be manipulated by online predators. We should be putting many more psychologists into schools."

The school system will work with the FBI in Asheville this fall to present to middle school, high school and early college students and their parents/guardians about how to be safer online, especially in regards to of online enticement and "sextortion" awareness.

The school system's online security and student surveillance measures will include:

  • Web filtering and monitoring tools for all web traffic.

  • School security door systems and safety glass at each school.

  • Anonymous tipline for students and families.

  • Student social media filtering.

  • SwiftK12 alert call system w/emergency call feature dials multiple contacts per student.

  • Network firewall appliance prevents network intrusion that can compromise sensitive student and personnel records.

  • Anti-bullying web form allows anonymous reporting of suspected bullying.

  • Digital surveillance cameras in schools.

  • Stop-arm camera systems on all yellow buses.

  • Cameras installed on all 45 buses.

  • Two-way radios on all buses.

In 2020-21, the school system was slotted to receive $5.6 million in Education Stabilization Fund through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) draft plotting allotments.

The funding will be in place through 2024, according to Hoffman.

In the superintendent's view, the pandemic highlighted the critical need for an increased presence of mental health professionals in the school system.

As a result, using the ESSER funds, MCS administration brought in a number of personnel to assist students with mental health concerns, including a nurse and counselor at Hot Springs Elementary School. Additionally, the school system added curriculum interventionists, a speech language pathologist, an additional Exceptional Children teacher and social workers.

"We understand the importance of social emotional learning, and we have added additional student services positions with ESSER funding," Hoffman said. "Our counselors, social workers, school nurses, and Exceptional Children’s staff have been on the front lines for students who have been in crisis during the pandemic. One neighboring school district recently reported that they cannot account for hundreds of students as a result of the pandemic. We are not in that predicament thanks largely to the work of school administrators and this group of individuals."

Other security measures

The rifles in safes and the increased online security presence are not the only security measures the school system is rolling out for the upcoming school year.

The school system will have an SRO and a school safety liaison at each school. Additionally, each school will also have a school counselor, as well as a nurse and social worker. There will also be certified first responders throughout the school district, according to Hoffman.

Crisis teams and plans will be in place for each of the six MCS schools, and the school system will work closely with the county DSS and Sheriff's Office, the superintendent said.

In 2022-23, the school system will conduct lockdown and safety drills, as well as threat assessment training for administrators and SRO staff.

A host of other measures will be implemented as well, the superintendent said, including:

  • Entrance gate at Madison High School and Madison Early College High School.

  • Panic button system in each building that reports to monitoring center and Sheriff’s Office.

  • Updated intercom systems at each school.

  • IP phone system with one-button emergency feature enabled on key administrative stations, sends alert announcements to all handsets, including those in use.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Madison County parents and residents weigh in on AR-15s in schools

Sun, 07 Aug 2022 21:00:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.yahoo.com/video/ar-15s-madison-county-schools-090031435.html
Killexams : Yale University: Climate Change and Energy Insecurity Are Impacting Connecticut Residents’ Health

The environmental impacts of climate change and a complex and often inefficient network of energy assistance programs are negatively affecting the health and well-being of Connecticut residents already burdened by the state’s soaring utility costs, according to a new report.

The report, “Energy Justice and Health in a Changing Climate,” which is based on focus groups with Connecticut residents, was issued today (July 27) by the Yale School of Public Health’s Center on Climate Change and Health, in partnership with the Vermont Law & Graduate School and Operation Fuel, a Connecticut-based nonprofit energy assistance and advocacy organization committed to equitable energy access. Student researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of the Environment, and the Vermont Law & Graduate School authored the report.

The findings provide an intimate, and often heartbreaking, view of how some of the state’s more vulnerable residents are struggling to meet their household energy needs. It also outlines residents’ own recommendations for policy changes and other actions to address energy insecurity in Connecticut that will help create an equitable clean energy future.

“This research shows the issue of energy insecurity is also a health issue and puts it in the context of solutions that also need to take into account climate change,” said Laura Bozzi, director of programs for the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health and Yale’s faculty advisor on the report.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Connecticut’s retail electricity rates are the third highest in the country, behind Hawaii and Alaska. The average Connecticut household spends 11.8% of its income on energy, but the percentage is six to seven times higher for low-income residents, renters, and homeowners earning below 30% of the state median income.

For the study, the researchers defined energy insecurity as the “inability to meet basic household energy needs.” A household that spends more than 6 to 10% of its income on energy is considered energy-insecure, according to the study.

The report summarizes discussions with 22 Connecticut residents in focus groups conducted this spring. Participants were asked about their energy use, how they manage their energy bills, and whether they have participated in energy assistance programs. Their feedback offered a glimpse of what the residents are going through.

Said one resident: “All the time we sacrifice to keep the lights on. We can’t go without it. I had to choose between food and keeping the lights on. We didn’t get the food…but the next bill was coming around again…we didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Said another: “I have to use air conditioning in my house, sometimes even in winter, because I’m asthmatic and my kid is asthmatic. I’ve tried to go days without it…what happens is we both get sick.”

The researchers gathered first-hand accounts so that residents’ own voices could be heard and considered in policymakers’ discussions of state energy policy. “We’ve seen studies on broad numbers, such as those on Connecticut’s energy gap, but haven’t seen a study that’s qualitative and actually reaches out to the people being affected by energy insecurity,” said Sarah Gledhill, one of the project’s leads and a master of environmental management candidate at Yale School of the Environment.

All the time we sacrifice to keep the lights on. We can’t go without it. I had to choose between food and keeping the lights on. We didn’t get the food.

Study participant
The focus groups represented the diversity of Connecticut’s population, including low-income residents, individuals from communities of color, older adults, persons with disabilities, and those living with chronic diseases. Their accounts shed new light on how health concerns intersect with energy insecurity by underscoring, as the report states, “the impact that temperature regulation has on medical conditions, financial stress, and mental health.”

The research also highlights how the reshaping of household energy use and rising energy costs, caused by climate change are disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups.

While roughly one-third of Connecticut households meet income eligibility for energy assistance funding, many study participants said they were not aware of ways to access current relief programs or had trouble navigating them. Some said they felt marginalized by the process.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been advocating on the regulatory and policy level for state agencies to come up with a streamlined process for folks, so they don’t have to go from one agency to another seeking state benefits,” said Operation Fuel’s Executive Director Brenda Watson. “Nobody wants to make an appointment and have to wait 30 days to be seen. And then when you go to be seen, there’s no ensure that you’ll get the benefit.”

Watson said the study also emphasizes the need for greater advocacy at the policy-making level to address inequities experienced by renters, who rely on landlords to maintain their homes, manage their energy sources, and install energy efficiencies.

Comments from participants in the study showed that energy-insecure residents often live with anxiety and stress, including whether their medical equipment will keep running or whether they will be able to refrigerate medicine and food at the required temperature. The study also found that many renters and tenants who live in poorly maintained buildings pay higher energy bills despite active efforts to minimize costs, ranging from unplugging appliances to stuffing newspapers under drafty doors. They also face greater health risks, such as exposure to carbon monoxide from running ovens for heat, water leaks, and mold.

“They were incredibly open with us. I feel honored to have those stories shared,” said Gledhill.

Some of the policy changes and actions recommended by the residents include:

Improving transparency on energy bills to show where costs are coming from
Providing low-income residents with free or reduced-priced energy-efficient LED light bulbs
Improving assistance programs by providing remote access, a 24-hour hotline, and regularly monitoring emails
Using schools to inform households about energy assistance programs
Adjusting the price of energy based on household income similar to the federal Section 8 housing program
Creating more bundled assistance programs that cover such things as food stamps, energy assistance, housing, and other needs

Mon, 08 Aug 2022 23:53:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://indiaeducationdiary.in/yale-university-climate-change-and-energy-insecurity-are-impacting-connecticut-residents-health/
Killexams : Three public service veterans top Singapore's National Day Awards list

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Three Singaporeans with a long record of public service have been conferred the Distinguished Service Order, one of the Republic's top national honours, for their contributions to the country over the years.

They are among 6,258 individuals - including public servants, community and grassroots leaders and educators - who will receive National Day honours this year.

The Distinguished Service Order, the highest accolade given out this year, is awarded to veteran diplomat and former Indian Heritage Centre advisory board chairman Gopinath Pillai, 84; Public Service Commission (PSC) chairman Lee Tzu Yang, 67; and the Ministry of Health's (MOH) chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan, 62.

Pillai, who is a former ambassador-at-large, facilitated greater synergy and interaction between India and Singapore, according to his award citation.

As chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies at National University of Singapore (NUS) from 2004 to 2021, Pillai played a leading role in fostering Singapore-India relations by building up deep knowledge on India.

He was also involved in various organisations that played a key role in Singapore's social development, and held roles including as chairman of the Hindu Advisory Board from 1990 to 1999 and as founding chairman of NTUC FairPrice Co-operative from 1983 to 1993.

Lee, who has been PSC chairman since 2018, was recognised for his contribution to the public service, education and the arts.

Under his leadership, the PSC brought in a more diverse pool of scholarship candidates. He is also chair of the board of trustees of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, the Esplanade and the Founders' Memorial Steering Committee.

"This is an honour I humbly accept on behalf of others who work with me. In my short time on the PSC, I have seen members and secretariat work tirelessly to increase our reach for diversity in talent, and to Strengthen selection of strengths and traits, to enable the public service to do an even better job," Lee said as he also acknowledged the contributions of his colleagues on the various boards.

Prof Tan, who is also executive director of the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation, said he was thankful for the opportunity to work in three areas that mean a great deal to him.

These are: improving health and healthcare, building the local research and innovation ecosystem, and contributing to the transformation of NUS. He was NUS president from 2008 to 2017.

"What was especially exciting and meaningful for me was the chance to be involved in creating and strengthening bridges between these sectors, to increase the overall impact," he said.

He also highlighted the strength, commitment and resilience of those he had worked with along the way, in particular during the two most challenging periods he encountered - the Sars epidemic in 2003, when he was director of medical services, and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Four veterans in their fields were conferred the next highest award this year, the Meritorious Service Medal.

They are Chan Yeng Kit, permanent secretary at MOH; Dr Andrew Phang, Justice of the Court of Appeal; Seah Moon Ming, chairman of SMRT; and David Wong, chairman of Republic Polytechnic.

Four foreign business leaders were among 67 individuals to be recognised with a Public Service Star for their contributions to Singapore.

Marcus Wallenberg, 65, a Swedish member of the Temasek International Panel, was also Temasek's first international board director, serving from 2008 to 2020.

The veteran investor, who chairs northern European financial services group SEB, said: "I am deeply honoured to have received this award. Working with Temasek and Singapore for many years has been a true pleasure, as well as an opportunity for me to widen my perspectives and learn a lot from many exceptional people."

Sir James Dyson, 75, the British founder and chairman of home appliance giant Dyson, said the award was a great honour and recognition of the whole Dyson team in Singapore.

"Today, we proudly call the historic St James Power Station our global headquarters and our wonderful Singapore engineers and scientists are driving exciting research programmes with Singapore's excellent universities - it is a highly supportive environment for a high-technology manufacturer such as Dyson," he said. The company's global headquarters officially moved to Singapore in March this year.

Also recognised are Shimano Yozo, Singapore's Honorary Consul-General in Osaka, Japan, who is chairman and chief executive of bicycle component manufacturing company Shimano; and Bill Winters, a member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's International Advisory Panel and group CEO of Standard Chartered Bank.

One recipient conferred honours posthumously is Dr Agnes Koong, who was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Bronze).

The former community health director at SingHealth Polyclinics died in 2021 at age 44 from leukaemia. She was also clinic director at Marine Parade Polyclinic from 2012 to 2019, where she oversaw the launch of a locker box service that allowed patients, especially the elderly, to pick up urgent medication after hours.

The late Subaraj Rajathurai, a wildlife consultant and well-known conservationist, is conferred the Public Service Medal (Posthumous). Subaraj died in October 2019, aged 56.

His wife, former nurse Shamla Subaraj, said she and her two sons are deeply appreciative of the award.

"It is surreal - I know he has done a lot for Singapore, especially for ecotourism. He would be chuffed, if he is listening from up there," she said. "He made his passion his work. It resonated with him as he was also very passionate when it came to wildlife, and he lived his life fighting for the wildlife and being a voice for the animals."

A full list of the 2022 National Day Award recipients is available at the Prime Minister's Office website.

Mon, 08 Aug 2022 18:25:00 -0500 en text/html https://www.thestar.com.my/aseanplus/aseanplus-news/2022/08/09/three-public-service-veterans-top-singapore039s-national-day-awards-list
Killexams : Biden wants an industrial renaissance. He can’t do it without immigration reform.

JOHNSTOWN, Ohio — Just 15 minutes outside of downtown Columbus, the suburbs abruptly evaporate. Past a bizarre mix of soybean fields, sprawling office parks and lonely clapboard churches is a field where the Biden administration — with help from one of the world’s largest tech companies — hopes to turn the U.S. into a hub of microchip manufacturing.

In his State of the Union address in March, President Joe Biden called this 1,000-acre spread of corn stalks and farmhouses a “field of dreams.” Within three years, it will house two Intel-operated chip facilities together worth $20 billion — and Intel is promising to invest $80 billion more now that Washington has sweetened the deal with subsidies. It’s all part of a nationwide effort to head off another microchip shortage, shore up the free world’s advanced industrial base in the face of a rising China and claw back thousands of high-end manufacturing jobs from Asia.

But even as Biden signs into law more than $52 billion in “incentives” designed to lure chipmakers to the U.S., an unusual alliance of industry lobbyists, hard-core China hawks and science advocates says the president’s dream lacks a key ingredient — a small yet critical core of high-skilled workers. It’s a politically troubling irony: To achieve the long-sought goal of returning high-end manufacturing to the United States, the country must, paradoxically, attract more foreign workers.

“For high-tech industry in general — which of course, includes the chip industry — the workforce is a huge problem,” said Julia Phillips, a member of the National Science Board. “It’s almost a perfect storm.”

From electrical engineering to computer science, the U.S. currently does not produce enough doctorates and master’s degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math fields who can go on to work in U.S.-based microchip plants. Decades of declining investments in STEM education means the U.S. now produces fewer native-born recipients of advanced STEM degrees than most of its international rivals.

Foreign nationals, including many educated in the U.S., have traditionally filled that gap. But a bewildering and anachronistic immigration system, historic backlogs in visa processing and rising anti-immigrant sentiment have combined to choke off the flow of foreign STEM talent precisely when a fresh surge is needed.

Powerful members of both parties have diagnosed the problem and floated potential fixes. But they have so far been stymied by the politics of immigration, where a handful of lawmakers stand in the way of reforms few are willing to risk their careers to achieve. With a short window to attract global chip companies already starting to close, a growing chorus is warning Congress they’re running out of time.

“These semiconductor investments won’t pay off if Congress doesn’t fix the talent bottleneck,” said Jeremy Neufeld, a senior immigration fellow at the Institute for Progress think tank.

Given the hot-button nature of immigration fights, the chip industry has typically been hesitant to advocate directly for reform. But as they pump billions of dollars into U.S. projects and contemplate far more expensive plans, a sense of urgency is starting to outweigh that reluctance.

“We are seeing greater and greater numbers of our employees waiting longer and longer for green cards,” said David Shahoulian, Intel’s head of workforce policy. “At some point it will become even more difficult to attract and retain folks. That will be a problem for us; it will be a problem for the rest of the tech industry.”

“At some point, you’ll just see more offshoring of these types of positions,” Shahoulian said.

A Booming Technology

Microchips (often called “semiconductors” by wonkier types) aren’t anything new. Since the 1960s, scientists — working first for the U.S. government and later for private industry — have tacked transistors onto wafers of silicon or other semiconducting materials to produce computer circuits. What has changed is the power and ubiquity of these chips.

The number of transistors researchers can fit on a chip roughly doubles every two years, a phenomenon known as Moore’s Law. In latest years, that has led to absurdly powerful chips bristling with transistors — IBM’s latest chip packs them at two-nanometer intervals into a space roughly the size of a fingernail. Two nanometers is thinner than a strand of human DNA, or about how long a fingernail grows in two seconds.

A rapid boost in processing power stuffed into ever-smaller packages led to the information technology boom of the 1990s. And things have only accelerated since — microchips remain the primary driver of advances in smartphones and missiles, but they’re also increasingly integrated into household appliances like toaster ovens, thermostats and toilets. Even the most inexpensive cars on the market now contain hundreds of microchips, and electric or luxury vehicles are loaded with thousands.

It all adds up to a commodity widely viewed as the bedrock of the new digital economy. Like fossil fuels before them, any country that controls the production of chips possesses key advantages on the global stage.

Until fairly recently, the U.S. was one of those countries. But while chips are still largely designed in America, its capacity to produce them has declined precipitously. Only 12 percent of the world’s microchip production takes place in the U.S., down from 37 percent in 1990. That percentage declines further when you exclude “legacy” chips with wider spaces between transistors — the vast majority of bleeding-edge chips are manufactured in Taiwan, and most factories not found on that island reside in Asian nations like South Korea, China and Japan.

For a long time, few in Washington thinking about America’s flagging chip production. Manufacturing in the U.S. is expensive, and offshoring production to Asia while keeping R&D stateside was a good way to cut costs.

Two things changed that calculus: the Covid-19 pandemic and rising tensions between the U.S. and China.

Abrupt work stoppages sparked by viral spread in Asia sent shockwaves through finely tuned global supply chains. The flow of microchips ceased almost overnight, and then struggled to restart under new Covid surges and ill-timed extreme weather events. Combined with a spike in demand for microelectronics (sparked by generous government payouts to citizens stuck at home), the manufacturing stutter kicked off a chip shortage from which the world is still recovering.

Even before the pandemic, growing animosity between Washington and Beijing caused officials to question the wisdom of ceding chip production to Asia. China’s increasingly bellicose threats against Taiwan caused some to conjure up nightmare scenarios of an invasion or blockade that would sever the West from its supply of chips. The Chinese government was also pouring billions of dollars into a crash program to boost its own lackluster chip industry, prompting fears that America’s top foreign adversary could one day corner the market.

By 2020 the wheels had begun to turn on Capitol Hill. In January 2021, lawmakers passed as part of their annual defense bill the CHIPS for America Act, legislation authorizing federal payouts for chip manufacturers. But they then struggled to finance those subsidies. Although they quickly settled on more than $52 billion for chip manufacturing and research, lawmakers had trouble decoupling those sweeteners from sprawling anti-China “competitiveness” bills that stalled for over a year.

But those subsidies, as well as new tax credits for the chip industry, were finally sent to Biden’s desk in late July. Intel isn’t the only company that’s promised to supercharge U.S. projects once that money comes through — Samsung, for example, is suggesting it will expand its new $17 billion chip plant outside of Austin, Texas, to a nearly $200 billion investment. Lawmakers are already touting the subsidies as a key step toward an American renaissance in high-tech manufacturing.

Quietly, however, many of those same lawmakers — along with industry lobbyists and national security experts — fear all the chip subsidies in the world will fall flat without enough high-skilled STEM workers. And they accuse Congress of failing to seize multiple opportunities to address the problem.

STEM help wanted

In Columbus, just miles from the Johnstown field where Intel is breaking ground, most officials don’t mince words: The tech workers needed to staff two microchip factories, let alone eight, don’t exist in the region at the levels needed.

“We’re going to need a STEM workforce,” admitted Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican lieutenant governor.

But Husted and others say they’re optimistic the network of higher ed institutions spread across Columbus — including Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College — can beef up the region’s workforce fast.

“I feel like we’re built for this,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College. He highlighted the repeated refrain from Intel officials that 70 percent of the 3,000 jobs needed to fill the first two factories will be “technician-level” jobs requiring two-year associate degrees. “These are our jobs,” Harrison said.

Harrison is anxious, however, over how quickly he and other leaders in higher ed are expected to convince thousands of students to sign up for the required STEM courses and join Intel after graduation. The first two factories are slated to be fully operational within three years, and will need significant numbers of workers well before then. He said his university still lacks the requisite infrastructure for instruction on chip manufacturing — “we’re missing some wafer processing, clean rooms, those kinds of things” — and explained that funding recently provided by Intel and the National Science Foundation won’t be enough. Columbus State will need more support from Washington.

“I don’t know that there’s a great Plan B right now,” said Harrison, adding that the new facilities will run into “the tens of millions.”

A lack of native STEM talent isn’t unique to the Columbus area. Across the country, particularly in regions where the chip industry is planning to relocate, officials are fretting over a perceived lack of skilled technicians. In February, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation cited a shortage of skilled workers when announcing a six-month delay in the move-in date for their new plant in Arizona.

“Whether it’s a licensure program, a two-year program or a Ph.D., at all levels, there is a shortfall in high-tech STEM talent,” said Phillips. The NSB member highlighted the “missing millions of people that are not going into STEM fields — that basically are shut out, even beginning in K-12, because they’re not exposed in a way that attracts them to the field.”

Industry groups, like the National Association of Manufacturers, have long argued a two-pronged approach is necessary when it comes to staffing the high-tech sector: Reevaluating immigration policy while also investing heavily in workforce development

The abandoned House and Senate competitiveness bills both included provisions that would have enhanced federal support for STEM education and training. Among other things, the House bill would have expanded Pell Grant eligibility to students pursuing career-training programs.

“We have for decades incentivized degree attainment and not necessarily skills attainment,” said Robyn Boerstling, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy. “There are manufacturing jobs today that could be filled with six weeks of training, or six months, or six years; we need all of the above.”

But those provisions were scrapped, after Senate leadership decided a conference between the two chambers on the bills was too unwieldy to reach agreement before the August recess.

Katie Spiker, managing director of government affairs at National Skills Coalition, said the abandoned Pell Grant expansion shows Congress “has not responded to worker needs in the way that we need them to.” Amid criticisms that the existing workforce development system is unwieldy and ineffective, the decision to scrap new upgrades is a continuation of a trend of disinvesting in workers who hope to obtain the skills they need to meet employer demand.

“And it becomes an issue that only compounds itself over time,” Spiker said. “As technology changes, people need to change and evolve their skills.”

“If we’re not getting people skilled up now, then we won’t have people that are going to be able to evolve and skill up into the next generation of manufacturing that we’ll do five years from now.”

Congress finally sent the smaller Chips and Science Act — which includes the chip subsidies and tax credits, $200 million to develop a microchip workforce and a slate of R&D provisions — to the president’s desk in late July. The bill is expected to enhance the domestic STEM pool (at least on the margins). But it likely falls short of the generational investments many believe are needed.

“You could make some dent in it in six years,” said Phillips. “But if you really want to solve the problem, it’s closer to a 20-year investment. And the ability of this country to invest in anything for 20 years is not phenomenal.”

Immigration Arms Race

The microchip industry is in the midst of a global reshuffling that’s expected to last a better part of the decade — and the U.S. isn’t the only country rolling out the red carpet. Europe, Canada, Japan and other regions are also thinking about their security, and preparing sweeteners for microchip firms to set up shop in their borders. Cobbling together an effective STEM workforce in a short time frame will be key to persuading companies to choose America instead.

That will be challenging at the technician level, which represents around 70 percent of workers in most microchip factories. But those jobs require only two-year degrees — and over a six-year period, it’s possible a sustained education and recruitment effort can produce enough STEM workers to at least keep the lights on.

It’s a different story entirely for Ph.D.s and master’s degrees, which take much longer to earn and which industry reps say make up a smaller but crucial component of a factory’s workforce.

Gabriela González, Intel’s head of global STEM research, policy and initiatives, said about 15 percent of factory workers must have doctorates or master’s degrees in fields such as material and electrical engineering, computer science, physics and chemistry. Students coming out of American universities with those degrees are largely foreign nationals — and increasingly, they’re graduating without an immigration status that lets them work in the U.S., and with no clear pathway to achieving that status.

A National Science Board estimate from earlier this year shows a steadily rising proportion of foreign-born students with advanced STEM skills. That’s especially true for degrees crucial to the chip industry — nearly 60 percent of computer science Ph.D.s are foreign born, as are more than 50 percent of engineering doctorates.

“We are absolutely reliant on being able to hire foreign nationals to fill those needs,” said Intel’s Shahoulian. Like many in the chip industry, Shaoulian contends there simply aren’t enough high-skilled STEM professionals with legal status to simultaneously serve America’s existing tech giants and an influx of microchip firms.

Some academics, such as Howard University’s Ron Hira, suggest the shortage of workers with STEM degrees is overblown, and industry simply seeks to import cheaper, foreign-born labor. But that view contrasts with those held by policymakers on Capitol Hill or people in the scientific and research communities. In a report published in late July by the Government Accountability Office, all 17 of the experts surveyed agreed the lack of a high-skilled STEM workforce was a barrier to new microchip projects in the U.S. — and most said some type of immigration reform would be needed.

Many, if not most, of the foreign nationals earning advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities would prefer to stay and work in the country. But America’s immigration system is turning away these workers in record numbers — and at the worst possible time.

Ravi (not his real name, given his tenuous immigration status) is an Indian national. Nearly three years ago, he graduated from a STEM master’s program at a prestigious eastern university before moving to California to work as a design verification lead at an international chip company. He’s applied three times for an H-1B visa, a high-skilled immigration program used extensively by U.S. tech companies. But those visas are apportioned via a lottery, and Ravi lost each time. His current visa only allows him to work through the end of year — so Ravi is giving up and moving to Canada, where he’s agreed to take a job with another chip company. Given his skill set, he expects to quickly receive permanent legal status.

“The application process is incredibly simple there,” said Ravi, noting that Canadian officials were apologetic over their brief 12-week processing time (they’re swamped by refugee applications, he said).

If given the choice, Ravi said he would’ve probably stayed in California. But his story now serves as a cautionary tale for his younger brother back home. “Once he sort of completed his undergrad back in India, he did mention that he is looking at more immigration-friendly countries,” Ravi said. “He’s giving Canada more thought, at this point, than the United States.”

Ravi’s story is far from unique, particularly for Indian nationals. The U.S. imposes annual per-country caps on green cards — and between a yearly crush of applicants and a persistent processing backlog, Indians (regardless of their education or skill level) can expect to wait as long as 80 years for permanent legal status. A report released earlier this year by the libertarian Cato Institute found more than 1.4 million skilled immigrants are now stuck in green card backlogs, just a slight drop from 2020’s all-time high of more than 1.5 million.

The third rail of U.S. politics

The chip industry has shared its anxiety over America’s slipping STEM workforce with Washington, repeatedly asking Congress to make it easier for high-skilled talent to stay. But unlike their lobbying for subsidies and tax breaks — which has gotten downright pushy at times — they’ve done so very quietly. While chip lobbyists have spent months telling anyone who will listen why the $52 billion in financial incentives are a “strategic imperative,” they’ve only recently been willing to discuss their immigration concerns on the record.

In late July, nine major chip companies planned to send an open letter to congressional leadership warning that the shortage of high-skilled STEM workers “has truly never been more acute” and urging lawmakers to “enact much-needed green card reforms.” But the letter was pulled at the last minute, after some companies thinking about wading into a tense immigration debate at the wrong time.

Leaders in the national security community have been less shy. In May, more than four dozen former officials sent a leader to congressional leadership urging them to shore up America’s slipping immigration edge before Chinese technology leapfrogs ours. “With the world’s best STEM talent on its side, it will be very hard for America to lose,” they wrote. “Without it, it will be very hard for America to win.”

The former officials exhorted lawmakers to take up and pass provisions in the House competitiveness bill that would’ve lifted green card caps for foreign nationals with STEM Ph.D.s or master’s degrees. It’d be a relatively small number of people — a February study from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology suggested the chip industry would only need around 3,500 foreign-born workers to effectively staff new U.S.-based factories.

“This is such a small pool of people that there’s already an artificial cap on it,” said Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow focused on technology and national security at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Kitchen suggested the Republican Party’s wariness toward immigration shouldn’t apply to these high-skilled workers, and some elected Republicans agree. Sen. John Cornyn, whose state of Texas is poised to gain from the expansion of chip plants outside Austin, took up the torch — and almost immediately got burned.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior Republican senator, blocked repeated attempts by Cornyn, Democrats and others to include the green card provision in the final competitiveness package. Finding relief for a small slice of the immigrant community, Grassley reasoned, “weakens the possibility to get comprehensive immigration reform down the road.” He refused to budge even after Biden administration officials warned him of the national security consequences in a classified June 16 briefing, which was convened specifically for him. The effort has been left for dead (though a push to shoehorn a related provision into the year-end defense bill is ongoing).

Many of Grassley’s erstwhile allies are frustrated with his approach. “We’ve been talking about comprehensive immigration reform for how many decades?” asked Kitchen, who said he’s “not inclined” to let America’s security concerns “tread water in the background” while Congress does nothing to advance broader immigration bills.

Most Republicans in Congress agree with Kitchen. But so far it’s Cornyn, not Grassley, who’s paid a price. After helping broker a deal on gun control legislation in June, Cornyn was attacked by Breitbart and others on his party’s right flank for telling a Democratic colleague immigration would be next.

“Immigration is one of the most contentious issues here in Congress, and we’ve shown ourselves completely incapable of dealing with it on a rational basis,” Cornyn said in July. The senator said he’d largely given up on persuading Grassley to abandon his opposition to new STEM immigration provisions. “I would love to have a conversation about merit-based immigration,” Cornyn said. “But I don’t think, under the current circumstances, that’s possible.”

Cornyn blamed that in part on the far right’s reflexive outrage to any easing of immigration restrictions. “Just about anything you say or do will get you in trouble around here these days,” he said.

Given that reality, few Republicans are willing to stick their necks out on the issue.

“If you look at the messaging coming out of [the National Republican Senatorial Committee] or [the Republican Attorneys General Association], it’s all ‘border, border, border,’” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition. Shi said even moderate Republicans hesitate to publicly advance arguments “championing these sensible visas for Ph.D. STEM talents for integrated circuits for semiconductors.”

“They’re like … ‘I can’t say those phrases until after the elections,’” Shi said.

That skittishness extends to state-level officials — Ohio’s Husted spent some time expounding on the benefits of “bringing talented people here to do the work in America, rather than having companies leave America to have it done somewhere else.” He suggested that boosting STEM immigration would be key to Intel’s success in his state. But when asked whether he’s taken that message to Ohio’s congressional delegation — after all, he said he’d been pestering them to pass the chip subsidies — Husted hedged.

“My job is to do all I can for the people of the state of Ohio. There are other people whose job it is to message those other things,” Husted said. “But if asked, you heard what my answer is.”

Of course, Republicans also pin some of the blame on Democrats. “The administration ignores the fire at the border and the chaos there, which makes it very hard to have a conversation about controlling immigration flows,” Cornyn said.

And while Democratic lawmakers reject that specific concern, some admit their side hasn’t prioritized STEM immigration as it should.

“Neither team has completely clean hands,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner noted that Democrats have also sought to hold back STEM immigration fixes as “part of a sweetener” so that business-friendly Republicans would in turn back pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He also dinged the chip companies, claiming the issue is “not always as straightforward” as the industry would like to frame it and that tech companies sometimes hope to pay less for foreign-born talent.

But Warner still supports the effort to lift green card caps for STEM workers. “Without that high-skilled immigration, it’s not like those jobs are going to disappear,” he said. “They’re just gonna move to another country.”

And despite their rhetoric, it’s hard to deny that congressional Republicans are largely responsible for continued inaction on high-skilled immigration — even as their allies in the national security space become increasingly insistent.

Stuck on STEM immigration

Though they’ve had to shrink their ambitions, lawmakers working to lift green card caps for STEM immigrants haven’t given up. A jurisdictional squabble between committees in July prevented advocates from including in the House’s year-end defense bill a provision that would’ve nixed the caps for Ph.D.s in “critical” STEM fields. They’re now hoping to shoehorn the provision into the Senate’s defense bill instead, and have tapped Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina as their champion in the upper chamber.

But Tillis is already facing pushback from the right. And despite widespread support, few truly believe there’s enough momentum to overcome Grassley and a handful of other lawmakers willing to block any action.

“Most members on both sides recognize that this is a problem they need to resolve,” said Intel’s Shahoulian. “They’re just not at a point yet where they’re willing to compromise and take the political hits that come with it.”

The global chip industry is moving in the meantime. While most companies are still planning to set up shop in the U.S. regardless of what happens with STEM immigration, Shahoulian said inaction on that front will inevitably limit the scale of investments by Intel and other firms.

“You’re already seeing that dynamic playing out,” he said. “You’re seeing companies set up offices in Canada, set up offices elsewhere, move R&D work elsewhere in the world, because it is easier to retain talent elsewhere than it is here.”

“This is an issue that will progressively get worse,” Shahoulian said. “It’s not like there will be some drop-dead deadline. But yeah, it’s getting difficult.”

Intel is still plowing ahead in Johnstown — backhoes are churning up dirt, farmers have been bought out of homes owned by their families for generations and the extensive water and electric infrastructure required for eight chip factories is being laid. Whether those bets will pay off in the long-term may rest on Congress’ ability to thread the needle on STEM immigration. And there’s little optimism at the moment.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said she sometimes wishes she could “shake everybody and tell them to wake up.” But she believes economic and geopolitical realities will force Congress to open the door to high-skilled foreign workers — eventually.

“I think the question is whether you do that now or in 10 years,” Cantwell said. “And you’ll be damn sorry if you wait for 10 years.”

Sat, 30 Jul 2022 23:00:00 -0500 en text/html https://www.politico.com/news/2022/07/31/microchip-immigration-tech-00048242 Killexams : PowerSchool to Launch Connected Intelligence, First Fully Managed Data-as-a-Service Platform for K-12 Schools

PowerSchool (NYSE: PWSC), the leading provider of cloud-based software for K-12 education in North America, today announced it has launched Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool®. Partnering with Snowflake via the Powered by Snowflake program, Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool is the first fully managed K-12 Education focused Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) platform. It provides school districts and education agencies with a unified, global, fully managed, and secure platform. With Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool, school districts retain sole ownership of the data and have the ability to collaborate with internal stakeholders and external partners efficiently and securely.

By unifying all data under one comprehensive platform, segregated by school district, with built-in, stringent data security and governance controls, educators and school district or state-wide leaders will be able to take advantage of many benefits, including the following:

  • Increase equitable opportunities for all students. Connecting data from early childhood to adulthood can help Strengthen a wide variety of initiatives aimed at supporting student outcomes and can even be leveraged within post-secondary support and workforce development.
  • Spend fewer resources managing data access and storage. Instead, educators can spend their time actually using data thanks to machine learning and analytics that create alerts if a student is exhibiting warning signs (e.g., an increased chance of not graduating on time).
  • Store education data securely and in one place. Access to all data in one place empowers educators and stakeholders with key insights to impove student outcomes.
  • Expand access to all data, including historic, current, future and any third-party data sources. This includes labor and workforce development data and secure inter-agency data sharing and collaboration, such as with juvenile justice, foster care, and other social services agencies, which aims to position all students for life-long success and their communities for positive social and economic futures.
"Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool gives state departments of education and school systems the ability to transform the economic and social outlook of their communities by bringing all their data together and giving them unprecedented ease of access, unparalleled performance, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing their data is safely secured," said Shivani Stumpf, Group Vice President, New Solutions of PowerSchool. "This innovative, all-inclusive data ecosystem that we've developed, and built on Snowflake's Data Cloud, aims to help education leaders make the most effective and efficient use of data with greater agility, and to inform their investments so that they can focus on what matters most - improving student outcomes and preparing all learners for success."

Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool will also help school districts and education agencies realize the momentous goals of delivering personalized learning, meeting each student where they are, and providing contextually relevant information that will allow education leaders to take immediate action. For example, based on the unified data available within Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool, an educator can more clearly make curriculum recommendations that will support greater personalized learning for each student.

"From the ability to unify access to our data for research and ad-hoc analysis, to using predictive insights for preparing our students for the workforce, Connected Intelligence will revolutionize the way we use data for mission-critical initiatives to drive our students' success," said Hugh Gourgeon, President of Challenger Schools.

"With Snowflake and PowerSchool's partnership educators gain a powerful combination of capabilities that further enables data collaboration both internally across school districts and externally with third-party agencies, all while providing consistent security and governance," said Jeff Frazier, Head of Global Public Sector, Snowflake. "Through the Powered by Snowflake program, PowerSchool has not only scaled Unified Insights but also introduced new products like Connected Intelligence that empower school districts and education agencies to mobilize data to Strengthen student outcomes."

For more information about Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool, please visit https://www.powerschool.com/connected-intelligence-by-powerschool/.

About PowerSchool

PowerSchool (NYSE: PWSC) is the leading provider of cloud-based software for K-12 education in North America. Its mission is to power the education ecosystem with unified technology that helps educators and students realize their full potential, in their way. PowerSchool connects students, teachers, administrators, and parents, with the shared goal of improving student outcomes. From the office to the classroom to the home, it helps schools and districts efficiently manage state reporting and related compliance, special education, finance, human resources, talent, registration, attendance, funding, learning, instruction, grading, assessments and analytics in one unified platform. PowerSchool supports over 45 million students globally and more than 14,000 customers, including over 90 of the top 100 districts by student enrollment in the United States, and sells solutions in over 90 countries. Visit www.powerschool.com to learn more.

© PowerSchool. PowerSchool and other PowerSchool marks are trademarks of PowerSchool Holdings, Inc. or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

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Mon, 01 Aug 2022 03:17:00 -0500 text/html https://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2022/08/01/9648248.htm
Killexams : Community child care center continues to progress

There is a nationwide need for child care, and Marion County proves to be the same. According to data gathered by ChildCare Aware, out of 11,865 residents in Marion County, there are 658 under the age of 6, and 507 of those children have both parents in the work force.

The Marion County Child Care Needs Assessment was conducted by the Hillsboro Community Child Care Center Board and K-State Research and Extension. There were 105 individuals who responded to the survey during the month of July in 2021. The majority of respondents reported they lived in the following zip codes: 67063 or 66861.

Finding infant care and having reliable child care were the most challenging needs identified. Child care centers were slightly preferred over providing care within the home, utilizing a combination of care as needed, or attending a school based program.

So H4C, Hillsboro Community Child Care Center, Inc., is doing all they can to change that.

The non-profit group was developed out of the need for better child care options for families in Marion County. Their vision is to establish an early learning center that provides children and families developmentally appropriate learning experiences needed for their future. And their mission is to provide a safe, affordable and welcoming early learning environment that fosters children to develop socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively to build the best foundation for future leaders.

The group has been working hard and has already gotten quite a bit accomplished, from establishing a board of directors to attending trainings, getting established as a 501 (c) (3) and more. They have even secured a building for the center, as they will be using Trinity Mennonite Church in Hillsboro.

“The facility is large and well set up, so we are already well ahead of where we could be,” said Carla Harmon, treasurer.

While there will be some costs needed for architectural and engineering fees as well as building appliances, inventory, classroom supplies and equipment, playground equipment and miscellaneous building expenses, having a building is key. And the church will still continue to house other community programs such as CORE, Everence, care portals, Salvation Army and other possibilities, including becoming a resource place for young families.

“We really do envision the space to not only be utilized as a child care center, but a community center with opportunities for office space with the basement of the building,” said Erin Hein, secretary.

In fact, the group cannot emphasize the community aspect enough.

“This child care center is for Marion County and not just for Hillsboro or USD 410. It’s for our whole community, and we need the whole community’s support. It’s truly a community thing. It has to be community supported and backed, and in turn, it goes back to benefit our businesses. It gives our parents the opportunity to have stable child care and get back into the work force and provide an income for their families. We need each other,” said Hein.

In addition to providing jobs, the center also is looking to network with local colleges to provide hands-on learning for those going into education so they can get observation and practicum hours. High schoolers will also possibly be able to do some school credit if they want to go into child care. The center could benefit many different aspect of the community.

With some of the costs cut by having a building, the group can focus on raising funds for the other needs like curriculum, staffing and more. They plan on fundraising and also applying for a grant that will help them really stretch their funds.

The grant is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Kansas Department of Commerce. Grants are due in early 2023. They are reviewed and awarded in March. CDBG have to be awarded to units of government, so the City of Hillsboro would be a passthrough for the grant to the child care center.

“Since Hillsboro is under 5,000 population, the center would be eligible for up to $600,000 in funding. The minimum match is 25 percent, or $150,000, but grant applications score higher with more match. The board’s target is a 50/50 match of $600,000. That would supply the center $1.2 million to complete a significant portion of remodeling and start serving kids,” said Hillsboro City Administrator Matt Stiles, who sits on the board. “This round of CDBG has a strong focus on child care centers, which is a little bit unusual. The state recognizes that child care is a significant problem across the state and is intentionally making investments in this area. Based on the amount of work already completed by our child care board, we would have a very competitive application for this round.”

Because H4C is now a 501 (c) (3) ,they can accept donations, and those donations are tax-deductible. Donations can be made through the Hillsboro Community Foundation. The board will be doing some fundraisers and other events and will be getting social media up and running very soon so that the public can stay informed on events.

One common misconception that has come up is that the center is trying to replace other existing centers and in-home providers, but Harmon and Hein said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Even if we were to fill the center to capacity, we would still need them,” said Harmon. “And every child is different, so some may be better in a center, and some may be better at a home daycare. We need all of them.”

Hein added that they want daycare providers to know that they are not in competition but need all of them to continue the hard work that they are doing.

“And we need one daycare provider still to sit on our board so we have their input,” said Hein.

The group is open to ideas and is looking for more business and community involvement. If you have questions or ideas, you can email the group at hillsboro4c@gmail.com or contact a board member. H4C Board of Directors: Chair: Tristen Cope – Civic Sector; Treasurer: Carla Harmon – Education Sector; Secretary: Erin Hein – Public Health Sector; Max Heinrichs – Hillsboro Community Foundation; Anthony Roy – Parent Sector; Matt Stiles – Civic Sector; Jeremy Matlock – Religious Sector; Mark Rooker – Business Sector. Seat open for local child care provider.

Thu, 04 Aug 2022 06:22:00 -0500 Laura Fowler Paulus en-US text/html https://www.hillsborofreepress.com/news/community-child-care-center-continues-to-progress
Killexams : The missing piece in Biden's microchip ambitions: STEM immigration

JOHNSTOWN, Ohio — Just 15 minutes outside of downtown Columbus, the suburbs abruptly evaporate. Past a bizarre mix of soybean fields, sprawling office parks and lonely clapboard churches is a field where the Biden administration — with help from one of the world’s largest tech companies — hopes to turn the U.S. into a hub of microchip manufacturing.

In his State of the Union address in March, President Joe Biden called this 1,000-acre spread of corn stalks and farmhouses a “field of dreams.” Within three years, it will house two Intel-operated chip facilities together worth $20 billion — and Intel is promising to invest $80 billion more now that Washington has sweetened the deal with subsidies. It’s all part of a nationwide effort to head off another microchip shortage, shore up the free world’s advanced industrial base in the face of a rising China and claw back thousands of high-end manufacturing jobs from Asia.


But even as Biden signs into law more than $52 billion in “incentives” designed to lure chipmakers to the U.S., an unusual alliance of industry lobbyists, hard-core China hawks and science advocates says the president’s dream lacks a key ingredient — a small yet critical core of high-skilled workers. It’s a politically troubling irony: To achieve the long-sought goal of returning high-end manufacturing to the United States, the country must, paradoxically, attract more foreign workers.

“For high-tech industry in general — which of course, includes the chip industry — the workforce is a huge problem,” said Julia Phillips, a member of the National Science Board. “It's almost a perfect storm.”

From electrical engineering to computer science, the U.S. currently does not produce enough doctorates and master's degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math fields who can go on to work in U.S.-based microchip plants. Decades of declining investments in STEM education means the U.S. now produces fewer native-born recipients of advanced STEM degrees than most of its international rivals.

Foreign nationals, including many educated in the U.S., have traditionally filled that gap. But a bewildering and anachronistic immigration system, historic backlogs in visa processing and rising anti-immigrant sentiment have combined to choke off the flow of foreign STEM talent precisely when a fresh surge is needed.

Powerful members of both parties have diagnosed the problem and floated potential fixes. But they have so far been stymied by the politics of immigration, where a handful of lawmakers stand in the way of reforms few are willing to risk their careers to achieve. With a short window to attract global chip companies already starting to close, a growing chorus is warning Congress they’re running out of time.

“These semiconductor investments won't pay off if Congress doesn't fix the talent bottleneck,” said Jeremy Neufeld, a senior immigration fellow at the Institute for Progress think tank.

Given the hot-button nature of immigration fights, the chip industry has typically been hesitant to advocate directly for reform. But as they pump billions of dollars into U.S. projects and contemplate far more expensive plans, a sense of urgency is starting to outweigh that reluctance.

“We are seeing greater and greater numbers of our employees waiting longer and longer for green cards,” said David Shahoulian, Intel’s head of workforce policy. “At some point it will become even more difficult to attract and retain folks. That will be a problem for us; it will be a problem for the rest of the tech industry.”

“At some point, you’ll just see more offshoring of these types of positions,” Shahoulian said.

A Booming Technology

Microchips (often called “semiconductors” by wonkier types) aren’t anything new. Since the 1960s, scientists — working first for the U.S. government and later for private industry — have tacked transistors onto wafers of silicon or other semiconducting materials to produce computer circuits. What has changed is the power and ubiquity of these chips.

The number of transistors researchers can fit on a chip roughly doubles every two years, a phenomenon known as Moore’s Law. In latest years, that has led to absurdly powerful chips bristling with transistors — IBM’s latest chip packs them at two-nanometer intervals into a space roughly the size of a fingernail. Two nanometers is thinner than a strand of human DNA, or about how long a fingernail grows in two seconds.

A rapid boost in processing power stuffed into ever-smaller packages led to the information technology boom of the 1990s. And things have only accelerated since — microchips remain the primary driver of advances in smartphones and missiles, but they’re also increasingly integrated into household appliances like toaster ovens, thermostats and toilets. Even the most inexpensive cars on the market now contain hundreds of microchips, and electric or luxury vehicles are loaded with thousands.

It all adds up to a commodity widely viewed as the bedrock of the new digital economy. Like fossil fuels before them, any country that controls the production of chips possesses key advantages on the global stage.

Until fairly recently, the U.S. was one of those countries. But while chips are still largely designed in America, its capacity to produce them has declined precipitously. Only 12 percent of the world’s microchip production takes place in the U.S., down from 37 percent in 1990. That percentage declines further when you exclude “legacy” chips with wider spaces between transistors — the vast majority of bleeding-edge chips are manufactured in Taiwan, and most factories not found on that island reside in Asian nations like South Korea, China and Japan.

For a long time, few in Washington thinking about America’s flagging chip production. Manufacturing in the U.S. is expensive, and offshoring production to Asia while keeping R&D stateside was a good way to cut costs.

Two things changed that calculus: the Covid-19 pandemic and rising tensions between the U.S. and China.

Abrupt work stoppages sparked by viral spread in Asia sent shockwaves through finely tuned global supply chains. The flow of microchips ceased almost overnight, and then struggled to restart under new Covid surges and ill-timed extreme weather events. Combined with a spike in demand for microelectronics (sparked by generous government payouts to citizens stuck at home), the manufacturing stutter kicked off a chip shortage from which the world is still recovering.

Even before the pandemic, growing animosity between Washington and Beijing caused officials to question the wisdom of ceding chip production to Asia. China’s increasingly bellicose threats against Taiwan caused some to conjure up nightmare scenarios of an invasion or blockade that would sever the West from its supply of chips. The Chinese government was also pouring billions of dollars into a crash program to boost its own lackluster chip industry, prompting fears that America’s top foreign adversary could one day corner the market.

By 2020 the wheels had begun to turn on Capitol Hill. In January 2021, lawmakers passed as part of their annual defense bill the CHIPS for America Act, legislation authorizing federal payouts for chip manufacturers. But they then struggled to finance those subsidies. Although they quickly settled on more than $52 billion for chip manufacturing and research, lawmakers had trouble decoupling those sweeteners from sprawling anti-China “competitiveness” bills that stalled for over a year.

But those subsidies, as well as new tax credits for the chip industry, were finally sent to Biden’s desk in late July. Intel isn’t the only company that’s promised to supercharge U.S. projects once that money comes through — Samsung, for example, is suggesting it will expand its new $17 billion chip plant outside of Austin, Texas, to a nearly $200 billion investment. Lawmakers are already touting the subsidies as a key step toward an American renaissance in high-tech manufacturing.

Quietly, however, many of those same lawmakers — along with industry lobbyists and national security experts — fear all the chip subsidies in the world will fall flat without enough high-skilled STEM workers. And they accuse Congress of failing to seize multiple opportunities to address the problem.

STEM help wanted

In Columbus, just miles from the Johnstown field where Intel is breaking ground, most officials don’t mince words: The tech workers needed to staff two microchip factories, let alone eight, don’t exist in the region at the levels needed.

“We’re going to need a STEM workforce,” admitted Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican lieutenant governor.

But Husted and others say they’re optimistic the network of higher ed institutions spread across Columbus — including Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College — can beef up the region’s workforce fast.

“I feel like we're built for this,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College. He highlighted the repeated refrain from Intel officials that 70 percent of the 3,000 jobs needed to fill the first two factories will be “technician-level” jobs requiring two-year associate degrees. “These are our jobs,” Harrison said.

Harrison is anxious, however, over how quickly he and other leaders in higher ed are expected to convince thousands of students to sign up for the required STEM courses and join Intel after graduation. The first two factories are slated to be fully operational within three years, and will need significant numbers of workers well before then. He said his university still lacks the requisite infrastructure for instruction on chip manufacturing — “we’re missing some wafer processing, clean rooms, those kinds of things” — and explained that funding recently provided by Intel and the National Science Foundation won’t be enough. Columbus State will need more support from Washington.

“I don't know that there's a great Plan B right now,” said Harrison, adding that the new facilities will run into “the tens of millions.”

A lack of native STEM talent isn’t unique to the Columbus area. Across the country, particularly in regions where the chip industry is planning to relocate, officials are fretting over a perceived lack of skilled technicians. In February, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation cited a shortage of skilled workers when announcing a six-month delay in the move-in date for their new plant in Arizona.

“Whether it’s a licensure program, a two-year program or a Ph.D., at all levels, there is a shortfall in high-tech STEM talent,” said Phillips. The NSB member highlighted the “missing millions of people that are not going into STEM fields — that basically are shut out, even beginning in K-12, because they're not exposed in a way that attracts them to the field.”

Industry groups, like the National Association of Manufacturers, have long argued a two-pronged approach is necessary when it comes to staffing the high-tech sector: Reevaluating immigration policy while also investing heavily in workforce development

The abandoned House and Senate competitiveness bills both included provisions that would have enhanced federal support for STEM education and training. Among other things, the House bill would have expanded Pell Grant eligibility to students pursuing career-training programs.

“We have for decades incentivized degree attainment and not necessarily skills attainment,” said Robyn Boerstling, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy. “There are manufacturing jobs today that could be filled with six weeks of training, or six months, or six years; we need all of the above.”

But those provisions were scrapped, after Senate leadership decided a conference between the two chambers on the bills was too unwieldy to reach agreement before the August recess.

Katie Spiker, managing director of government affairs at National Skills Coalition, said the abandoned Pell Grant expansion shows Congress “has not responded to worker needs in the way that we need them to.” Amid criticisms that the existing workforce development system is unwieldy and ineffective, the decision to scrap new upgrades is a continuation of a trend of disinvesting in workers who hope to obtain the skills they need to meet employer demand.

“And it becomes an issue that only compounds itself over time,” Spiker said. “As technology changes, people need to change and evolve their skills.”

“If we're not getting people skilled up now, then we won't have people that are going to be able to evolve and skill up into the next generation of manufacturing that we’ll do five years from now.”

Congress finally sent the smaller Chips and Science Act — which includes the chip subsidies and tax credits, $200 million to develop a microchip workforce and a slate of R&D provisions — to the president’s desk in late July. The bill is expected to enhance the domestic STEM pool (at least on the margins). But it likely falls short of the generational investments many believe are needed.

“You could make some dent in it in six years,” said Phillips. “But if you really want to solve the problem, it's closer to a 20-year investment. And the ability of this country to invest in anything for 20 years is not phenomenal.”

Immigration Arms Race

The microchip industry is in the midst of a global reshuffling that’s expected to last a better part of the decade — and the U.S. isn’t the only country rolling out the red carpet. Europe, Canada, Japan and other regions are also thinking about their security, and preparing sweeteners for microchip firms to set up shop in their borders. Cobbling together an effective STEM workforce in a short time frame will be key to persuading companies to choose America instead.

That will be challenging at the technician level, which represents around 70 percent of workers in most microchip factories. But those jobs require only two-year degrees — and over a six-year period, it’s possible a sustained education and recruitment effort can produce enough STEM workers to at least keep the lights on.

It’s a different story entirely for Ph.D.s and master’s degrees, which take much longer to earn and which industry reps say make up a smaller but crucial component of a factory’s workforce.

Gabriela González, Intel’s head of global STEM research, policy and initiatives, said about 15 percent of factory workers must have doctorates or master’s degrees in fields such as material and electrical engineering, computer science, physics and chemistry. Students coming out of American universities with those degrees are largely foreign nationals — and increasingly, they’re graduating without an immigration status that lets them work in the U.S., and with no clear pathway to achieving that status.

A National Science Board estimate from earlier this year shows a steadily rising proportion of foreign-born students with advanced STEM skills. That’s especially true for degrees crucial to the chip industry — nearly 60 percent of computer science Ph.D.s are foreign born, as are more than 50 percent of engineering doctorates.

“We are absolutely reliant on being able to hire foreign nationals to fill those needs,” said Intel’s Shahoulian. Like many in the chip industry, Shaoulian contends there simply aren’t enough high-skilled STEM professionals with legal status to simultaneously serve America’s existing tech giants and an influx of microchip firms.

Some academics, such as Howard University’s Ron Hira, suggest the shortage of workers with STEM degrees is overblown, and industry simply seeks to import cheaper, foreign-born labor. But that view contrasts with those held by policymakers on Capitol Hill or people in the scientific and research communities. In a report published in late July by the Government Accountability Office, all 17 of the experts surveyed agreed the lack of a high-skilled STEM workforce was a barrier to new microchip projects in the U.S. — and most said some type of immigration reform would be needed.

Many, if not most, of the foreign nationals earning advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities would prefer to stay and work in the country. But America’s immigration system is turning away these workers in record numbers — and at the worst possible time.

Ravi (not his real name, given his tenuous immigration status) is an Indian national. Nearly three years ago, he graduated from a STEM master’s program at a prestigious eastern university before moving to California to work as a design verification lead at an international chip company. He’s applied three times for an H-1B visa, a high-skilled immigration program used extensively by U.S. tech companies. But those visas are apportioned via a lottery, and Ravi lost each time. His current visa only allows him to work through the end of year — so Ravi is giving up and moving to Canada, where he’s agreed to take a job with another chip company. Given his skill set, he expects to quickly receive permanent legal status.

“The application process is incredibly simple there,” said Ravi, noting that Canadian officials were apologetic over their brief 12-week processing time (they’re swamped by refugee applications, he said).

If given the choice, Ravi said he would’ve probably stayed in California. But his story now serves as a cautionary tale for his younger brother back home. “Once he sort of completed his undergrad back in India, he did mention that he is looking at more immigration-friendly countries,” Ravi said. “He’s giving Canada more thought, at this point, than the United States.”

Ravi’s story is far from unique, particularly for Indian nationals. The U.S. imposes annual per-country caps on green cards — and between a yearly crush of applicants and a persistent processing backlog, Indians (regardless of their education or skill level) can expect to wait as long as 80 years for permanent legal status. A report released earlier this year by the libertarian Cato Institute found more than 1.4 million skilled immigrants are now stuck in green card backlogs, just a slight drop from 2020’s all-time high of more than 1.5 million.

The third rail of U.S. politics

The chip industry has shared its anxiety over America’s slipping STEM workforce with Washington, repeatedly asking Congress to make it easier for high-skilled talent to stay. But unlike their lobbying for subsidies and tax breaks — which has gotten downright pushy at times — they’ve done so very quietly. While chip lobbyists have spent months telling anyone who will listen why the $52 billion in financial incentives are a “strategic imperative,” they’ve only recently been willing to discuss their immigration concerns on the record.

In late July, nine major chip companies planned to send an open letter to congressional leadership warning that the shortage of high-skilled STEM workers “has truly never been more acute” and urging lawmakers to “enact much-needed green card reforms.” But the letter was pulled at the last minute, after some companies thinking about wading into a tense immigration debate at the wrong time.

Leaders in the national security community have been less shy. In May, more than four dozen former officials sent a leader to congressional leadership urging them to shore up America’s slipping immigration edge before Chinese technology leapfrogs ours. “With the world’s best STEM talent on its side, it will be very hard for America to lose,” they wrote. “Without it, it will be very hard for America to win.”

The former officials exhorted lawmakers to take up and pass provisions in the House competitiveness bill that would’ve lifted green card caps for foreign nationals with STEM Ph.D.s or master’s degrees. It’d be a relatively small number of people — a February study from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology suggested the chip industry would only need around 3,500 foreign-born workers to effectively staff new U.S.-based factories.

“This is such a small pool of people that there's already an artificial cap on it,” said Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow focused on technology and national security at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Kitchen suggested the Republican Party’s wariness toward immigration shouldn’t apply to these high-skilled workers, and some elected Republicans agree. Sen. John Cornyn, whose state of Texas is poised to gain from the expansion of chip plants outside Austin, took up the torch — and almost immediately got burned.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior Republican senator, blocked repeated attempts by Cornyn, Democrats and others to include the green card provision in the final competitiveness package. Finding relief for a small slice of the immigrant community, Grassley reasoned, “weakens the possibility to get comprehensive immigration reform down the road.” He refused to budge even after Biden administration officials warned him of the national security consequences in a classified June 16 briefing, which was convened specifically for him. The effort has been left for dead (though a push to shoehorn a related provision into the year-end defense bill is ongoing).

Many of Grassley’s erstwhile allies are frustrated with his approach. “We’ve been talking about comprehensive immigration reform for how many decades?” asked Kitchen, who said he’s “not inclined” to let America’s security concerns “tread water in the background” while Congress does nothing to advance broader immigration bills.

Most Republicans in Congress agree with Kitchen. But so far it’s Cornyn, not Grassley, who’s paid a price. After helping broker a deal on gun control legislation in June, Cornyn was attacked by Breitbart and others on his party’s right flank for telling a Democratic colleague immigration would be next.

“Immigration is one of the most contentious issues here in Congress, and we've shown ourselves completely incapable of dealing with it on a rational basis,” Cornyn said in July. The senator said he’d largely given up on persuading Grassley to abandon his opposition to new STEM immigration provisions. “I would love to have a conversation about merit-based immigration,” Cornyn said. “But I don't think, under the current circumstances, that’s possible.”

Cornyn blamed that in part on the far right’s reflexive outrage to any easing of immigration restrictions. “Just about anything you say or do will get you in trouble around here these days,” he said.

Given that reality, few Republicans are willing to stick their necks out on the issue.

“If you look at the messaging coming out of [the National Republican Senatorial Committee] or [the Republican Attorneys General Association], it’s all ‘border, border, border,’” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition. Shi said even moderate Republicans hesitate to publicly advance arguments “championing these sensible visas for Ph.D. STEM talents for integrated circuits for semiconductors.”

“They’re like … ‘I can’t say those phrases until after the elections,’” Shi said.

That skittishness extends to state-level officials — Ohio’s Husted spent some time expounding on the benefits of “bringing talented people here to do the work in America, rather than having companies leave America to have it done somewhere else.” He suggested that boosting STEM immigration would be key to Intel’s success in his state. But when asked whether he’s taken that message to Ohio’s congressional delegation — after all, he said he’d been pestering them to pass the chip subsidies — Husted hedged.

“My job is to do all I can for the people of the state of Ohio. There are other people whose job it is to message those other things,” Husted said. “But if asked, you heard what my answer is.”

Of course, Republicans also pin some of the blame on Democrats. “The administration ignores the fire at the border and the chaos there, which makes it very hard to have a conversation about controlling immigration flows,” Cornyn said.

And while Democratic lawmakers reject that specific concern, some admit their side hasn’t prioritized STEM immigration as it should.

“Neither team has completely clean hands,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner noted that Democrats have also sought to hold back STEM immigration fixes as “part of a sweetener” so that business-friendly Republicans would in turn back pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He also dinged the chip companies, claiming the issue is “not always as straightforward" as the industry would like to frame it and that tech companies sometimes hope to pay less for foreign-born talent.

But Warner still supports the effort to lift green card caps for STEM workers. “Without that high-skilled immigration, it’s not like those jobs are going to disappear,” he said. “They’re just gonna move to another country.”

And despite their rhetoric, it’s hard to deny that congressional Republicans are largely responsible for continued inaction on high-skilled immigration — even as their allies in the national security space become increasingly insistent.

Stuck on STEM immigration

Though they’ve had to shrink their ambitions, lawmakers working to lift green card caps for STEM immigrants haven’t given up. A jurisdictional squabble between committees in July prevented advocates from including in the House’s year-end defense bill a provision that would’ve nixed the caps for Ph.D.s in “critical” STEM fields. They’re now hoping to shoehorn the provision into the Senate’s defense bill instead, and have tapped Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina as their champion in the upper chamber.

But Tillis is already facing pushback from the right. And despite widespread support, few truly believe there’s enough momentum to overcome Grassley and a handful of other lawmakers willing to block any action.

“Most members on both sides recognize that this is a problem they need to resolve,” said Intel’s Shahoulian. “They’re just not at a point yet where they’re willing to compromise and take the political hits that come with it.”

The global chip industry is moving in the meantime. While most companies are still planning to set up shop in the U.S. regardless of what happens with STEM immigration, Shahoulian said inaction on that front will inevitably limit the scale of investments by Intel and other firms.

“You’re already seeing that dynamic playing out,” he said. “You’re seeing companies set up offices in Canada, set up offices elsewhere, move R&D work elsewhere in the world, because it is easier to retain talent elsewhere than it is here.”

“This is an issue that will progressively get worse,” Shahoulian said. “It’s not like there will be some drop-dead deadline. But yeah, it’s getting difficult.”

Intel is still plowing ahead in Johnstown — backhoes are churning up dirt, farmers have been bought out of homes owned by their families for generations and the extensive water and electric infrastructure required for eight chip factories is being laid. Whether those bets will pay off in the long-term may rest on Congress’ ability to thread the needle on STEM immigration. And there’s little optimism at the moment.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said she sometimes wishes she could “shake everybody and tell them to wake up.” But she believes economic and geopolitical realities will force Congress to open the door to high-skilled foreign workers — eventually.

“I think the question is whether you do that now or in 10 years,” Cantwell said. “And you'll be damn sorry if you wait for 10 years.”

Sat, 30 Jul 2022 23:00:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.yahoo.com/video/missing-piece-bidens-microchip-ambitions-110000217.html Killexams : Is it time to update the back-to-school sales tax holiday to fit 21st century Texas?

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Thu, 28 Jul 2022 23:00:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.statesman.com/story/news/local/texas/state-bureau/2022/07/29/has-texas-back-to-school-sales-tax-holiday-kept-up-with-the-times/65382854007/
Killexams : Live news updates: US dealmaking buoyed by raft of multibillion dollar buyouts

This week offers one of Africa’s most significant votes this year as Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday to decide a new president.

The contest is between the current deputy president William Ruto, 55, and Raila Odinga, a 77-year-old veteran of such campaigns now on his fifth attempt at the top job. Relations with China, which has invested heavily in the country over latest decades, raising concerns among Kenyans, have become a key battleground for the campaign.

The usual rule of advantage to the incumbent has been flipped after Ruto fell out with the current president Uhuru Kenyatta, who has in turn thrown his weight behind Odinga. As a result, the contest is now wide open, according to the FT’s Africa editor David Pilling. Further FT comment on Kenya’s poll, which will also include elections for parliament and 47 local assemblies, will be posted as results come in.

Attention will also turn this week (once again) to a previous significant poll: the 2020 US presidential election. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor turned personal attorney to former president Donald Trump, has been ordered by a New York judge to testify on Tuesday in front of a grand jury investigating attempts by Trump supporters to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

It is an indication of the threat the Georgia grand jury probe poses to Trump and those around him, greater some believe than the congressional January 6 committee investigation into the 2021 Capitol attack.

In other news, the UK’s Summer of Discontent over post-lockdown pay awards grinds on this week with up to 120 Red Funnel staff on the Isle of Wight ferry kicking things off with a walkout on Tuesday. More than 1,000 staff at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, one of Northern Ireland’s largest local authorities, will hold a strike on Wednesday, affecting refuse collection, planning and leisure services.

A Glasgow Subway train
Glasgow Subway workers plan to go on strike © Strathclyde Partnership for Transport via FT

On Friday it will be the turn of Glasgow Subway workers, a particular inconvenience for Rangers fans on a match day, followed by a (nother) national rail strike by Aslef train drivers at nine rail companies on Saturday.

On the bright side, and goodness knows we need it, Tuesday kicks off the British school test results season with Scottish students hoping for news that they have the necessary grades in Highers and Advanced Highers to secure university and college places.

This has been the first year of students sitting exams since the pandemic so expect this to be discussed as a factor in whatever grades students will receive. It will also be a chance for a school report on the Scottish National party’s performance running education north of the border.

Economic data

The headline economic news this week will be inflation data from the US and China, plus the UK’s first stab at the second-quarter gross domestic product figure.

We could also get some indication of the future movement of fuel prices with the monthly oil market reports from the Energy Information Administration and Opec. The increasing likelihood of a recession and, by extension, oil demand concerns will have an impact on these updates despite supply remaining very tight.

Companies

Like the holiday tan, the rush of company results announcements is fading for another season. The dominant theme will be insurance companies, providing further evidence of the damage being done by inflation to the sector, especially motor insurers, as the price of parts and other claims costs rise sharply.

After July profit warnings for Direct Line and Sabre, all eyes will be on Admiral’s half-year results on Wednesday to see whether its profitability and guidance can withstand the inflationary threat.

The other notable players are Aviva and Zurich. “These will provide more evidence of how the biggest, diversified groups are faring in a period of rising interest rates and a worsening economic outlook,” says my colleague, FT insurance correspondent Ian Smith.

Read the full week ahead calendar here

Mon, 08 Aug 2022 02:44:00 -0500 en-GB text/html https://www.ft.com/content/dd440dd6-bedd-4240-b9e8-0501ccf5313e
Killexams : Live news updates from August 8: China continues military drills around Taiwan, Falling tech stocks send SoftBank to $23.3bn loss

This week offers one of Africa’s most significant votes this year as Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday to decide a new president.

The contest is between the current deputy president William Ruto, 55, and Raila Odinga, a 77-year-old veteran of such campaigns now on his fifth attempt at the top job. Relations with China, which has invested heavily in the country over latest decades, raising concerns among Kenyans, have become a key battleground for the campaign.

The usual rule of advantage to the incumbent has been flipped after Ruto fell out with the current president Uhuru Kenyatta, who has in turn thrown his weight behind Odinga. As a result, the contest is now wide open, according to the FT’s Africa editor David Pilling. Further FT comment on Kenya’s poll, which will also include elections for parliament and 47 local assemblies, will be posted as results come in.

Attention will also turn this week (once again) to a previous significant poll: the 2020 US presidential election. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor turned personal attorney to former president Donald Trump, has been ordered by a New York judge to testify on Tuesday in front of a grand jury investigating attempts by Trump supporters to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

It is an indication of the threat the Georgia grand jury probe poses to Trump and those around him, greater some believe than the congressional January 6 committee investigation into the 2021 Capitol attack.

In other news, the UK’s Summer of Discontent over post-lockdown pay awards grinds on this week with up to 120 Red Funnel staff on the Isle of Wight ferry kicking things off with a walkout on Tuesday. More than 1,000 staff at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, one of Northern Ireland’s largest local authorities, will hold a strike on Wednesday, affecting refuse collection, planning and leisure services.

A Glasgow Subway train
Glasgow Subway workers plan to go on strike © Strathclyde Partnership for Transport via FT

On Friday it will be the turn of Glasgow Subway workers, a particular inconvenience for Rangers fans on a match day, followed by a (nother) national rail strike by Aslef train drivers at nine rail companies on Saturday.

On the bright side, and goodness knows we need it, Tuesday kicks off the British school test results season with Scottish students hoping for news that they have the necessary grades in Highers and Advanced Highers to secure university and college places.

This has been the first year of students sitting exams since the pandemic so expect this to be discussed as a factor in whatever grades students will receive. It will also be a chance for a school report on the Scottish National party’s performance running education north of the border.

Economic data

The headline economic news this week will be inflation data from the US and China, plus the UK’s first stab at the second-quarter gross domestic product figure.

We could also get some indication of the future movement of fuel prices with the monthly oil market reports from the Energy Information Administration and Opec. The increasing likelihood of a recession and, by extension, oil demand concerns will have an impact on these updates despite supply remaining very tight.

Companies

Like the holiday tan, the rush of company results announcements is fading for another season. The dominant theme will be insurance companies, providing further evidence of the damage being done by inflation to the sector, especially motor insurers, as the price of parts and other claims costs rise sharply.

After July profit warnings for Direct Line and Sabre, all eyes will be on Admiral’s half-year results on Wednesday to see whether its profitability and guidance can withstand the inflationary threat.

The other notable players are Aviva and Zurich. “These will provide more evidence of how the biggest, diversified groups are faring in a period of rising interest rates and a worsening economic outlook,” says my colleague, FT insurance correspondent Ian Smith.

Read the full week ahead calendar here

Sun, 07 Aug 2022 17:21:00 -0500 en-GB text/html https://www.ft.com/content/dd440dd6-bedd-4240-b9e8-0501ccf5313e
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